World Review | October 2019

Developments in North America

Bloomberg May Join US Elections

Billionaire and former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has begun signalling he may enter the Democratic presidential race.  A former moderate Republican and worth an estimated $ 52 billion, he had made noises earlier about a presidential run. After former vice-president Joe Biden entered the fray, Bloomberg indicated in March he no longer felt he needed to run. Biden’s struggle to impose himself on the Democratic race may have rekindled Bloomberg’s interest. It also reflects alarm among liberal establishment figures that the Democrats are moving too far left and giving President Donald Trump a chance at re-election. If he joins, Bloomberg will have a lot of work ahead of him. An early November Fox News polls said only six per cent of likely Democratic primary voters would cast a ballot for the billionaire. Some analysts say Bloomberg’s actual numbers are less than two per cent. If Biden stumbles, a centrist slot could open up, though Peter Butigieg of Indiana, the only gay candidate, seems to be drifting into that space.
Warren Bets on Healthcare
Elizabeth Warren, the number two Democratic candidate, saw her numbers drop after announcing plans for a universal healthcare programme, Medicare for All. She was evasive on how this could done without raising middle-class taxes. Media commentary of her health plan was 70 per cent negative. Warren has made healthcare one of the pillars of her campaign along with higher taxes on the wealthy and the breakup of Silicon Valley big tech and Wall Street’s big finance. 
The data shows Warren is the favourite number two candidate for the supporters of all the other major candidates. As the race tightens, Warren is best positioned to pick up supporters from other rivals. She also leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that will kick off the primaries next year. She averaged 21.5 per cent in national polling on November 6, but is seven points off her peak in October and trailing Biden by the same margin. 
Bernie Sanders, who remains a close number three, did well during the November television debates and allayed fears voters would drop him following a heart attack.
Blue Wave in US Local Polls 
If local elections are a harbinger of next year’s national elections, the Democrats are on a strong wicket. Since Trump has come to power the Democrats have unseated nine Republican governors compared to zero by the other party. These included states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Kentucky that voted for Trump. Blue candidates also won two senatorial seats in core Republican states in the US South. This month saw Democrats take both houses of the state assembly in Virginia, another conservative state. 
Election analysts like Nate Silver say these local victories show that the Republican-leaning suburban voter is in play. Urban seats trend heavily Democrat and rural ones Republican. Their strength in the suburbs has guaranteed the present Republican dominance of US politics. Demographic change, rising education and ethnic shifts have been changing the suburbs, but a dislike for Trump may be accelerating the process.
A study by political scientists Ruy Texeira and John Halpin has shown the US electorate next year will be 29 per cent non-white, 30 per cent college-educated whites and 42 per cent poorly-educated whites. The first two groups lean Democrat, the last Republican. Trump sealed his victory by winning a third of the non-white vote, 40 per cent of educated whites as well two-thirds of non-educated whites. In some midwestern states the uneducated white population is unusually large, like Michigan and Wisconsin, and swung to Trump. 
The trends in US local elections indicate this coalition may be harder to maintain with non-whites and educated whites backing Democrats more strongly. Analysts point to civic and congressional elections in places like Hamilton Country in Indiana and southwest St Louis in Missouri, Republican suburban strongholds which experienced unusually strong pro-Democrat swings. With leftist Democratic candidates wooing the white working class with welfare schemes, Texeira and Halpin believe it could possible for a Democratic candidate to take back “Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and carry the Electoral College by 279 votes to 259 votes.”
Trump Mildly Embattled
Trump continues to battle an impeachment process launched by the Democratic-controlled lower house of Congress. The accusation is that Trump asked the Ukrainian government to provide information he could use against Joe Biden and this is an impeachable offence. With the Senate firmly in the Republican fold and few Republicans willing to take on their president, the impeachment is unlikely to do much other than chip away at the president’s approval rating. So far, Trump’s ratings have held steady in the 42-44 per cent band. The Democrats continue to hope investigations will throw up something even more damaging. 
Figures show that the Trump administration has lost 41 per cent of its cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and undersecretaries over the past four years.  This is an unusually high turnover, much greater than previous presidencies. 
Though irrelevant to elections, new studies are saying the record low unemployment levels may be a long-term negative for the US economy. Much of the hiring is being done at the expense of capital investment because firms are concerned at the uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, the US elections and other events. Instead they are hiring workers because they can be easily dismissed later on. Economist are pointing to the slowing productivity figures as the flashing red light. The US’s productivity increases have been “the secret sauce” of the economy’s past success.

Developments in Europe

Fall of the Berlin Wall
Minority governments in the United Kingdom and Spain went to the polls seeking mandates even as European commentators marked the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many contrasted the heady expectations that had followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, reunification of Germany and spread of democracy to central Europe with the economic and political gloom the continent is experiencing today. 
Immediately following the Berlin Wall’s collapse, the European Union nearly doubled in size and US President George H. W. Bush’s vision of a Europe, “whole and free,” seemed possible. Democracy and economic reforms were introduced in a post-Soviet Russia. Francis Fukuyama could argue liberal democracy had no visible ideological challenger and thus, in a Hegelian sense, the “end of history” had arrived. 
In subsequent years much of this went awry. Yugoslavia collapsed into the first major international conflict on European soil since World War II. Russia fell into economic chaos, leading to the rise of Vladimir Putin and the restoration of authoritarian rule. 
Most striking has been the fate of the EU which has mired in a series of endless crises over the past two decades. The global financial crisis and the subsequent eurozone problem went on for several years. The organisation’s expansion ran aground in the Balkans and Turkey. The latter has given up European integration and gone down a more illiberal and Islamicist path. The European heartland has not been spared. The nativist working-class revolts against the ruling establishment led to the UK voting to leave the EU, the traditional parties of France and Italy being replaced, and anti-immigrant movements gaining ground in Germany and coming to power in central Europe. Talk of democracy in crisis, both economic and political liberalism being out of date, are now endemic. 
The outgoing head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, credited with forestalling the last eurozone crisis, warned that the European economy was heading for a recession going by present trends.
A historian speculates about a world in which the Berlin Wall did not fall. Clue: think Korean peninsula.
The transatlantic alliance’s peak was embodied in the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the alliance is today looking frayed. The scepticism about the alliance under Barack Obama has transmuted to open hostility under Trump. The US president is notable for being opposed to both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, though his reasons partly reflect his personal eccentricities. Europeans question whether their continent’s security and stability are a US priority any longer. The US, both on the left and right, ask if it is time to force the Europeans to defend themselves and focus instead on the Indo-Pacific. French President Emmanuel Macron was fiercely criticized by Germany for recently declaring NATO “brain dead” and resurrecting Gaullist visions of a European security architecture sans the US. However, Germans continue to fail to recognise that their own distorting economic policies and refusal to spend on defence are among the most important reasons for the sorry state of the Western alliance and European unity.

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World in Review

About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhury

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.